Friday, November 30, 2007

Papa delivers again!

Pope Benedict has just put out his new (and second) encyclical: Spe Salvi. Here is the full text.

And here's the introduction. To whet your appetite.

SPE SALVI facti sumus”—in hope we were saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). According to the Christian faith, “redemption”—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey. Now the question immediately arises: what sort of hope could ever justify the statement that, on the basis of that hope and simply because it exists, we are redeemed? And what sort of certainty is involved here?"

Go to it!

One final poem for November: Rilke

A last, melancholy salute to the end of the year. Advent begins at sundown tomorrow--the waiting hope of a new year. But here is Rilke, the end of his Eighth Elegy.

"And we: spectators, always, everywhere,
facing all this, never the beyond.
It overfills us. We arrange it. It falls apart.
We arrange it again, and fall apart ourselves.

Who has turned us around like this, so that
whatever we do, we find ourselves in the attitude
of someone going away? Just as that person
on the last hill, which shows him his whole valley
one last time, turns, stops, lingers--,
so we live, forever taking our leave."

~Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), The Eighth Elegy, in The Essential Rilke

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Poetry again: TS Eliot

With TS Eliot, I always ask, "What does it mean?" I only grasp shadows or wisps of the meaning, but they are beautiful shadows. Surely the real is even more beautiful (or more terrifying) than the shadows. November continues to inspire a return to poetry.

Little Gidding (No. 4 of the Four Quartets)
T.S. Eliot

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Miriam: Can I have a Jesus in my heart?

Mommy: Yes, he's always in your heart.

Miriam: That's good. It makes my heart feel safe.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The End of All Things

That is, the end meaning the goal or fulfillment:

This Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King. The Church rejoices in the truth that Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father in glory, "from there he shall come to judge the living and the dead." It is also the end of the liturgical year.

So, throw a New Year's Eve party!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

This is hot.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus over at this month's First Things included a long excerpt from Fr. Thomas Hopko's commencement address to St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary. It's worth the time to read it. May the Church soon be one again!

"The first and most important thing is that we are boudnlessly loved by God who blesses us to love Him boundlessly in return... The Church--the communion of faith and love (as St. Ignatius of Antoich defined it), the community of saints who are Christ's own very 'member' as his body and bride--is essential to our human being and life. We cannot be human beings--still less, Christians and saints--by ourselves. We need God and his wise and faithful servants. We need God's commandments and living examples of their fulfillment. We need the Church's scriptures, sacraments, services and saints. And we need one another. As Tertullian said centuries ago, 'One Christian is no Christian.'... Like it or not, we are members 'of one another' in God. If we like it, it is life and paradise. If we reject it, it is death and hell."

And then this bit:

"Thus, if we have become convinced of anything at all as Orthodox Christians, we are convinced that human beings are not autonomous. The proclamation and defense of human autonomy is the most insidious lie of our day, especially here in North America, and in the Western and Westernized worlds generally. Human beings are by nature heteronomous. Another law (heteros nomos) is always working in our minds and members. This 'other law' is either the law of God, the law of Christ, the law of the Holy Spirit, the law of liberty and life that can only be recognized, received, and realized by holy humility, or it is the law of sin and death (cf. Romans 7-8). When the law within us is God's law, then we are who we really are, and we are sane and free. But when that law is the law of sin and death, then we are not ourselves, and we are insane, enslaved, and sold to sin."

Finally, he wraps it up by a sobering look at CS Lewis's The Abolition of Man:

"I am convinced that what Lewis foresaw has happened, and is still happening with ever more catastrophic consequences, in our Western and Westernized worlds. It happens that men and women who once were human are simply no longer so. They have become nothing but minds and matter, brains and bodies, computers and copulators, constructors and cloners, who believe that they are free and powerful but who are in fact being destroyed by the very 'Nature' that they wish to conquer as they are enslaved to an oligarchy of 'Conditioners' who are themselves enslaved and destroyed by their insane strivings to define, design, manage, and manipulate a world and a humanity bereft of the God who boundlessly loves them."

Hm. Two thoughts:

First, in my youthful idealism, I hope that Fr. Hopko's diagnosis is extreme--that there is something to the men and women of my generation besides their machinized bodies and atrophied souls. I hold an uncertain hope that the young people I see around the university campus--with designer clothes, dead eyes, and iPod-plugged ears--can come back from the dead. I am sure it is a narrow, difficult road from there back to being human.

Second, I really must read The Abolition of Man. So must you.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Getting ready to vote.

Wow! The bishops have yet another helpful website: Faithful Citizenship. It's not poetry or even "Doctor of the Church" material, but it does a good job of presenting the guidelines by which lovers of Jesus Christ should make their political decisions.

This is particular: "The Church is principled but not ideological. We cannot compromise basic principles or moral teaching. We are committed to clarity about our moral teaching and to civility."

Of course, the document makes the rather wild assumption that Catholics reading it will themselves have such clarity on their Church's "moral teaching." It fails to mention that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, for example. But it a well-formed priest or catechist presents it to the people with such clarifications, it may be quite helpful.

In a year when I wonder for whom I could vote in good conscience (besides Steven Colbert, of course), it helps to get back to basics.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

For the discouraged Catholic

The following is from Romano Guardini. It speaks eloquently to anyone who feels he's being discouraged by his priest, bishop, or other Christians from witnessing to and loving the Gospel of Christ.

"The individual bears the Church in his faith, both her power and her weight. . . . She bears him and weighs him down. Her life nourishes him. Her immensity humbles him. Her breadth enlarges him. Her wisdom gives him a rule of life. . . . Her formalism blocks him; her coldness hardens him; and whatever is violent, selfish, hard, or vulgar about the Church has an influence on the faith of the individual, so that he sometimes seems obliged to sustain the cause of God, not only in the darkness of the world, but also in that of the Church."


The bishops have just posted a new website on marriage. Check it out and spread the word!

Thanks to the Feminine Genius.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More poetry: from Chesterton

This is probably my all-time favorite poem. November continues to move the philosophical mind to song...

The Great Minimum
by G.K. Chesterton

It is something to have wept as we have wept,
It is something to have done as we have done,
It is something to have watched when all men slept,
And seen the stars which never see the sun.

It is something to have smelt the mystic rose,
Although it break and leave the thorny rods,
It is something to have hungered once as those
Must hunger who have ate the bread of gods.

To have seen you and your unforgotten face,
Brave as a blast of trumpets for the fray,
Pure as white lilies in a watery space,
It were something, though you went from me today.

To have known the things that from the weak are furled,
Perilous ancient passions, strange and high;
It is something to be wiser than the world,
It is something to be older than the sky.

In a time of sceptic moths and cynic rusts,
And fattened lives that of their sweetness tire
In a world of flying loves and fading lusts,
It is something to be sure of a desire.

Lo, blessed are our ears for they have heard;
Yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
Let the thunder break on man and beast and bird
And the lightning. It is something to have been.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Popcak on abortion...

Here's a fabulous rebuttal to Gary Wills, who recently informed the faithful that abortion is "not a religious issue." Darn right it's not "religious." It's a basic human--and therefore all-encompassing--issue.

This op-ed is particularly run because it has quotes from as way back as Clement of Alexandria, instead of the old "Aquinas says so." It also explains how determinative your view of unborn humans is for your view of all humans.

Rock on.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

At the end of the year

November always brings out the Slav in me. The year is drawing to a close, the earth is gathering itself for sleep, and darkness falls early and suddenly. It's all a bit melancholy but also strong and wise. Czeslaw Milosz is among my favorite Slavs--a poet every melancholic and philosopher should know. He won the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature, back when that meant something.

This is from his later notebooks, titled "A Mirrored Gallery."

Pure beauty, benediction: you are all I gathered
From a life that was bitter and confused,
In which I learned about evil, my own and not my own.
Wonder kept seizing me, and I recall only wonder,
Risings of the sun over endless green, a universe
Of grasses, and flowers, opening to the first light,
Blue outline of the mountains and a hosanna shout.
I asked, how many times, is this the truth of the earth?
How can laments and curses by turned into hymns?
What makes you need to pretend, when you know better?
But the lips praised on their own, on their own the feet ran;
The heart beat strongly; and the tongue proclaimed its adoration.

And why all this ardor if death is so close?
Do you expect to hear and see and feel there?

And I have lived a life that makes me feel unable
To bring myself to write an accusation.
Joy would spurt in amid the lamentation.
So what, if, in a minute I must close the book:
Life's sweet, but it might be pleasant not to have to look.

~Czeslaw Milosz, "A Mirrored Gallery," in New and Collected Poems: 1931-2001

Saturday, November 3, 2007

All Saints Octave?

I was prevented from posting an appropriate All Saints' Day item, so here it is belatedly. The real reason I like this video is because it has an illustration by Gustav Dore for Dante's Paradiso.

Friday, November 2, 2007

All Souls' Day

"All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation, but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven." ~Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1030

Today the Church remembers those who have died but are still awaiting full union with God in heaven. This is purgatory--the soul in final purification. My addictions to coffee, sensual comforts, white lies, fear of rejection--all those things that make me rely on me instead of on my Creator--will be purged away until, as St. Teresa of Avila says, "God alone sufficeth."

Or, as Dante put it so perfectly, until my soul is "pure and disposed to mount unto the stars." ~Canto XXXIII, line 145

Let us pray for the dead who wait in joyful hope.